McKenzie River Reflections - Make the McKenzie Connection!

Jazz up your windowsill with spectacular orchids


January 8, 2013

By Denise Ruttan

A greenhouse in NewportJudie Rickus' greenhouse in Newport. (Photo by Judie Rickus)

Do Oregon's short, dark winter days have you dreaming of the sunshine of exotic lands? Jazz up your windowsill with glamorous orchids.




The bold beauties are not as finicky to care for as their reputation claims, according to Master Gardeners who were trained by the Oregon State University Extension Service.

An orchid that is properly watered can brighten your home for years.

Lisa Long of St. Helens, a Master Gardener since 1994, has grown orchids for almost 20 years. Eleven potted orchids rest on trays of pebbles on her windowsill. One plant prevailed for 18 years, but it took 15 years to bloom from a seedling.

"People think they're fussy, but a lot of it is common sense," Long said.

Judie Rickus of Newport, a Master Gardener since 2009, grows 100 orchids in a 10-foot by 14-foot stick-built greenhouse attached to her deck. The treasured flowers with myriad colors delight in an ocean view.

"There are many kinds of orchids that survive in many places," Rickus said. "There are mountain orchids that survive the cold with no problem and others that only want to be tropical. We lean on the warm side of things because we heat the greenhouse with a separate heating unit."

Rickus keeps the thermostat in the greenhouse at 75 degrees during the day and 55 degrees at night. An alarm system lets her know if the temperature outside drops significantly.

The two Master Gardeners offered the following tips to get you started with orchids:

* Plant them in aerated ceramic or plastic pots available at a home and garden center. Fill the pots with orchid bark.  

* With thousands of orchid varieties out there, learn about the care needs of your individual species. Research your species online or through books, or ask your local chapter of the Oregon Orchid Society.

* Generally, water them and add water-soluble fertilizer once per week. Know the watering and fertilization needs of your species. Overwatering is the most common cause of orchid death.

Rickus recommends placing the pot in a larger container with a few inches of water for 15 to 20 minutes to soak the bark once per week. To tell if you have watered enough, stick your finger one inch into the bark. If the bark feels damp, do not water.

The Master Gardeners suggest wiping off any dust on the leaves with a damp paper towel. Maintain a steady temperature in your house. Orchids are sensitive to temperature changes. Make sure your plant is not exposed to drafts. If you don't have a greenhouse, a windowsill is a fine spot for your orchids.

The Oregon Orchid Society also has information and resources.


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